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Economic development strategy takes shape

| March 30, 2007 12:00 AM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Editor

Work is moving ahead on the development of a new five-year Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for Lincoln County and three other counties in northwest Montana.

An update of a plan adopted in 2002 by Lincoln, Flathead, Sanders and Lake counties, the CEDS is required by the U.S. Economic Development Administration for funding assistance.

"It's the foundation for everything we want to do in Lincoln County and for all the sources we want to go after for funding," said Greg Larson, who along with Kootenai River Development Council is leading the development of southern Lincoln County's portion of the plan.

In his former position with Northwest Regional Resource Conservation and Development, Larson led the creation of the original CEDS five years ago. The updated plan will build on that foundation, Larson said.

"We learned a lot the last time around, and I think we can do even a better job in a shorter period of time because of what we learned," he said.

Input from kickoff meetings earlier this month in Libby and Troy helped create an outline for the new plan. Leaders have been assigned for committees tasked with working on issues such as education, health care, housing and infrastructure.

A primary issue raised during the kickoff meetings was the need for more jobs that pay well and provide benefits, Larson said. An associated issue is the need to affordable housing, which could be attained in part by increased income for area residents.

People attending the meetings also discussed the importance of projecting future health care and job-training needs, maintaining a healthy forest while utilizing small-diameter wood, and dealing with implications of the county's aging population.

A common theme was the need to make progress without drastic changes to the local culture and lifestyle, Larson said.

"I think that's one thing everyone can agree on," he said.

Planning efforts in southern Lincoln County will be combined with similar work being done in the Eureka area for an overall county plan, which will then be incorporated into the regional plan. A more detailed document dealing only with Lincoln County will be retained, however.

"We can cover a little more ground" in a county-specific plan, Larson said.

There will a public meeting on the county plan with a 30-day comment period before it is incorporated into the regional plan at the end of May, Larson said.